Tactics to strike back at annoying telemarketers
Thanks to attorney Steve Ostrow, who has won lawsuits against telemarketers for fun and profit, and is now the author of , How To Sue A Telemarketer: A Manual For Restoring Peace On Earth One Phone Call At A Time.
"They are calling you and they want to make money off you and we can reverse those roles," Ostrow told Consumer Ally. "You're not turning these companies into victims. They solicited you."
When he started working at his law practice from his California home, Ostrow developed the idea for a book after unending interruptions.
"I wasn't able to get work done because these telemarketers kept ringing and ringing and ringing," he said.
He decided to fight back. First with his own lawsuits -- he has gotten more than 10 judgments against telemarketers -- and now with a book to teach consumers.
Ostrow takes consumers on a step-by-step guide from collecting information, writing a demand letter, filing a complaint, serving the complaint and, finally, going to small claims court.
"It's enjoyable reading just knowing what your rights are," he said. "What the book is about is learning to play with these people."
And it can be profitable should the judge rule in your favor. Ostrow said just having a telemarketer calling a residential phone number that is on the National Do Not Call registry is a $500 fine for the business. Add to that another $500 fine if the home phone line has caller ID and the number is blocked.
Ostrow offered the following tips for dealing with a telemarketer:
- Get as much information as possible. Ask the telemarketer for a call back phone number and for the company's website. "You want to play with these people," he said. If the telemarketer leaves a message on the home answering machine -- that's evidence too.
- Be friendly and enthusiastic and then ask for the company's Do Not Call policy manual -- which it has to supply upon request within 30 days or face another $500 fine. "What we want to do is train the homeowner almost to welcome and embrace the telemarketer," Ostrow said. "you know what your rights are and you don't get that knot in the pit of your stomach."
- Once you have the company's website and phone number, you've got its name and address to file the complaint. If the case goes to court, a judge will determine who is telling the truth and who isn't. Chances are, the judge has also gotten telemarketing calls. "The judge knows exactly what you're going through," Ostrow said.
"Lawyers are not permitted in small claims court," Ostrow said. "We're talking about Judge Judy or Judge Leroy Brown." Typically a case will take about six weeks. Companies still rely on telemarketing because if they think that a campaign will bring in money, they are willing to pay a small portion to settle claims, he said.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said that 200 million phone numbers -- including mobile phones -- are now listed in the National Do Not Call registry. States have their own versions of the registry too and consumers can get on those typically through the state's attorney general's office.
Ostrow does recommend consumers sign up for the Do Not Call registry and pointed out that once a consumer's number is listed, that consumer would have to opt out of the program to be dropped from the registry.